Eastern Shore Hunters Gear up for Waterfowl Season

Posted on: November 17, 2015, By: admin

This article was originally posted on myeasternshoremd.com by Katie Willis (kwillis@stardem.com).

Canada geese feed in a field on Matthewstown Road in Easton. Canada goose hunting will reopen Saturday, Nov. 21, and run through Friday, Nov. 27; it will reopen for a final segment Tuesday, Dec. 15, and run through Saturday, Jan. 30, 2016. There will be a two-bird bag limit on Canada geese during the 2015-16 hunting season. Photo by Chris Polk.

Canada geese feed in a field on Matthewstown Road in Easton. Canada goose hunting will reopen Saturday, Nov. 21, and run through Friday, Nov. 27; it will reopen for a final segment Tuesday, Dec. 15, and run through Saturday, Jan. 30, 2016. There will be a two-bird bag limit on Canada geese during the 2015-16 hunting season. Photo by Chris Polk.

EASTON — Fall is far from a quiet time on the Eastern Shore, and with the second of three waterfowl hunting segments set to begin in mid-November, many Eastern Shore hunters are gearing up for the 2015-16 season.

Larry Hindman, Waterfowl Project leader with the Maryland Department of Natural Resources, said there are 60 allowable days of waterfowl hunting during the Atlantic Flyway’s 2015-16 season.

The Atlantic Flyway is a migratory path that follows the Atlantic Coast of North America. Birds fly north during the spring, toward the eastern Arctic islands and the coast of Greenland; and south in the fall and winter, toward the Gulf of Mexico.

Hindman said migratory Atlantic Flyway population Canada geese are “the mainstay of waterfowl hunting” on the Eastern Shore.

“People come from all over the world to the Eastern Shore of Maryland to hunt Canada geese,” Hindman said.

He said Canada geese arrive on the Eastern Shore in late September and there will be an influx of geese anytime there is a northwest wind to push more birds down toward the Chesapeake Bay, with their peak migration taking place early to mid-December.

There already has been an early Canada goose hunting segment, from Sept. 1 to 15, designed to manage a large population of residential Canada geese, which live on the Eastern Shore year-round, Hindman said.

Canada goose hunting will reopen Saturday, Nov. 21, and run through Friday, Nov. 27; it will reopen for a final segment Tuesday, Dec. 15, and run through Saturday, Jan. 30, 2016. There will be a two-bird bag limit on Canada geese during the 2015-16 hunting season.

Hindman said many hunters prefer hunting geese to ducks because “duck hunting takes more effort.” He said duck hunting usually takes place by boat, while goose hunting can take place from a field or a shore blind. Goose hunting also is more consistent and dependable, and there is more of an opportunity to see and harvest geese, he said.

Hindman said two early duck hunting segments also have taken place, the first being an early teal hunting season, which took place in September and lasted 13 days. He said the teal season takes place early because teal migrate south early.

The early duck hunting segment, which took place from Oct. 10 to 17, coincided with the peak of the wood duck migration in Maryland, Hindman said.

In this 2015 file photo, Canada geese feed in a field on Matthewstown Road in Easton. Canada goose hunting will reopen Saturday, Nov. 21, and run through Friday, Nov. 27; it will reopen for a final segment Tuesday, Dec. 15, and run through Saturday, Jan. 30, 2016. There will be a two-bird bag limit on Canada geese during the 2015-16 hunting season. Photo by John Bollinger.

In this 2015 file photo, Canada geese feed in a field on Matthewstown Road in Easton. Canada goose hunting will reopen Saturday, Nov. 21, and run through Friday, Nov. 27; it will reopen for a final segment Tuesday, Dec. 15, and run through Saturday, Jan. 30, 2016. There will be a two-bird bag limit on Canada geese during the 2015-16 hunting season. Photo by John Bollinger.

The regular duck season will reopen Saturday, Nov. 14, and run through Friday, Nov. 27. The final segment will take place from Tuesday, Dec. 15, through Saturday, Jan. 30. There will be a six-bird bag limit on ducks, Hindman said, although hunters should check local regulations, as there are some species restrictions. For example, hunters are allowed only two pintails as a part of their six-bird bag.

Hindman said the types of birds that migrate south through the Atlantic Flyway and the times they migrate depend heavily on the weather.

Ducks typically considered to be early migratory birds, hunted during the October segment, are green-winged teal, pintails, gadwalls and mallards, he said.

During November, Hindman said hunters may see more migratory mallards and may begin to see black ducks, ruddy ducks and buffleheads.

He said many migratory birds wait until colder weather prevails to travel, which on the Eastern Shore, usually takes place in late November and December. At that time, Hindman said, duck hunters may begin seeing more diving ducks, which feed by diving several feet below the surface of the water, such as blue-billed ducks, canvasbacks and goldeneyes.

During December and January, Hindman said hunters will see more dabbling ducks, which feed in shallow water, including mallards and black ducks. They also may see more diving ducks, such as scaups and mergansers, which are cold weather ducks, he said.

Hindman said hunting is considered excellent along the Chesapeake Bay because during the winter, it rarely gets cold enough for the Bay to freeze and most of the Bay remains open, enabling ducks to find food more easily and stop for a rest. However, hunters rely on cold weather and snow from the north to “push birds down into the Chesapeake Bay,” he said.

The best temperatures for hunting are in the 30- to 40-degree range, Hindman said. He said when temperatures dip below 20 degrees, “birds don’t move much because they are trying to conserve energy.”

However, Hindman said warm, mild winters mean waterfowl do not need to travel as far or feed on a lot of high-energy foods during travel. Colder weather stresses waterfowl during times of travel, and they become more active in seeking out food.

“Mild weather is not what our waterfowlers like,” Hindman said. “A blanket of snow produces some of the best hunting anywhere.”

Hindman said the number of breeding ducks traveling through the Atlantic Flyway, as of May 2015, is 50 million.

“Conditions have been good and the population increased,” Hindman said.

However, due to a cold spring along the Ungava Peninsula in northern Quebec, where 20 percent of migratory Canada geese breed, gosling production has been below average, Hindman said. He said because of the cold spring, breeding pairs were “not able to complete nesting” and geese either laid fewer eggs or walked away from nests.

Because of this, Hindman said, there are not many young geese, which will reduce hunter success, as “older birds are tougher to decoy” and coax into fields.

Hindman said monitoring has concluded that there are 161,300 breeding pairs of Canada geese this season, compared to 185,000 in 2014.

Canada geese go about their business despite the snow. Photo by Craig O'Donnell.

Canada geese go about their business despite the snow. Photo by Craig O’Donnell.

Hindman said the harvest rate and annual survival rate of Canada geese is monitored through leg-banding. These monitoring practices help DNR to determine where and when geese are harvested and determine the average harvest rate, which Hindman said is about 7 percent.

“As long as it’s not above 10 percent,” Hindman said. “That’s safe. That’s sustainable.”

During the 2014-15 hunting season, there were 114,000 Canada geese harvested in Maryland and 666,000 harvested along the Atlantic Flyway. During that same time, there were 95,800 ducks harvested in Maryland and 1.5 million harvested along the Atlantic Flyway, Hindman said.

He said being able to monitor waterfowl populations is important for future hunting generations, and buying hunting licenses, in addition to the excise tax on shotguns and ammunition, helps DNR to be able to continue these monitoring efforts.

“This is a renewable resource,” Hindman said. “We have great monitoring tools in place to make sure hunting regulations are safe, to ensure we sustain populations that are healthy for future generations.”

Hindman said hunting waterfowl is an important Eastern Shore tradition, helps manage population numbers and is a good way to spend time with family. He said hunting during the Thanksgiving holiday is especially important.

“Kids are off of school for Thanksgiving break; most businesses are closed on Thanksgiving. It’s a tradition, a great time to get together with family and hunt waterfowl,” Hindman said.

Hindman said there are no new waterfowl hunting regulations for Maryland hunters and no changes in the regulations that have been in place. Maryland hunting laws continue to prohibit the hunting of waterfowl on Sundays, Hindman said.

“This is a just a great outdoor sport,” Hindman said. “It’s great to be out there and see the sunrise with your best hunting dog, and if you get a couple birds, that’s great. But it’s about family time and spending time with family.”

For more information on waterfowl hunting regulations and bag limits, visit the Maryland Department of Natural Resources at dnr2.maryland.gov.